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A global shift in entrepreneurship

Yusheng Zhang

The many journeys of Yusheng Zhang (BSBA ’19) inspired his pioneering research for his honors thesis on the intersection of immigration policy and entrepreneurship. As a UNC Kenan-Flagler GLOBE® Fellow, Zhang’s studies spanned the globe – from Chapel Hill to semesters studying at Copenhagen Business School and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and expeditions throughout 23 countries.

“I am an immigrant who was fortunate enough to receive an education in this country,” says Zhang, who was born in China and moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. “My thesis research is both an academic exercise and a personal journey. I wanted to understand what the future holds and where I make an impact in the world.”

Zhang shared highlights from his research during a TED-style talk at the Harvard College Project for Asian and International Relations Conference, which was attended by hundreds of young professionals from more than 40 countries. In his presentation, “2…3….1: What I Learned from Entrepreneurs Around the World,” he talked about types of entrepreneurs, indicators of the democratization of people and ideas, and his perspective on the future of his generation.

“Two types of entrepreneurs are ‘aspirational’ entrepreneurs and ‘necessity’ entrepreneurs,” says Zhang. “Aspirational entrepreneurs have opportunities in industries that would provide them a very successful life.  But they feel compelled to take the risk of entrepreneurship to make life better for people around them and to find a higher sense of purpose through their work.” He cites a woman who built a company in Denmark that makes nutrition bars and teas from moringa, a sustainably farmed, drought-resistant plant from the Philippines.

By contrast, necessity entrepreneurs choose entrepreneurship because they need to address dire problems in their own communities or have no other choice to make a living. An example is Sunshine Classrooms, which provides live-streamed lessons to elementary school children in rural China where there is a shortage of schools.

Global improvement in government policies, accumulation of capital and exponential growth in standards of living and income throughout the world are the three indicators that have led to what Zhang calls “a tectonic shift” in the global flow of entrepreneurial talent. “There are more options today than ever to set up shop and secure capital,” he says. “It’s also more difficult than ever for policy makers and institutional leaders to retain entrepreneurs.”

Zhang examines the reverse brain drain, the phenomenon in which the U.S. is slowly losing market share of the world’s most talented and highly educated people, including entrepreneurs. “These individuals are moving back to their home countries or to other parts of the world after receiving an education in the United States or after a successful career here,” he says. “The pursuit of knowledge and innovation is no longer an exclusive privilege of first-world Western countries.”

“This change is a net gain for the world,” says Zhang. “There is a massive diffusion of knowledge and entrepreneurship throughout the world.” He believes that global policy leaders need to acknowledge that they are together in fluid ecosystems. “We need to stop thinking that entrepreneurs moving throughout the world is a zero-sum game,” he says. “We have to start thinking across borders.”

Zhang’s perspective is that his generation needs to choose to be the drivers of the tectonic shift in the global flow of entrepreneurial talent. “We need to look out into the world and find those places with welcoming government policy, ample flow of capital, and booming, sustainable growth that align with our values,” he says. “We must choose to be the democratizers of people and ideas.”

He says that his college experience changed his perspective on the world. “Honors Carolina, UNC Kenan-Flagler professors such as Ted Zoller and Chloe Glaeser, and the GLOBE program sparked my interest in entrepreneurship, geography and how the movement of people and ideas shapes the world today and tomorrow,” says Zhang. “Carolina encouraged me to conduct original research for my thesis, a 70-page narrative with data to support my claims. Ted has been very unselfish in offering me his time, expertise in and passion for entrepreneurship, and network to help me tackle this big question on immigration and entrepreneurship.”

After graduation, Zhang will spend the summer interning at the Global Entrepreneurship Network in Washington, D.C. before joining EY’s consulting practice in August. He hopes to continue and amplify the dialogue on immigration and entrepreneurship.

“I think entrepreneurship is what drives the world forward,” says Zhang. “We need to understand that the more exchange of people and ideas we have globally, the better story we can write for the future.”